In the fall and winter of 2008, I'd pretty much given up watching basketball. The fact that the Sonics relocated to Oklahoma, and that the Spurs lost in the Western Conference Finals to the Lakers, were enough for me to become apathetic towards the NBA. Life then as a Spurs/Sonics fan was tough. It was at this low point in my life as a basketball fan that Manu Ginobili slapped me right in the face with a dunk that I'll never forget:
If I could pick one play to explain my passion for the Spurs and Ginobili, it would be this one. When my love for basketball was fading away, Manu was right there to bring it back. He made me forget about past failures, and I was able to just enjoy this one play. It was as if time was frozen, and Bill Land serenaded me into basketball heaven.
The Magic of Manu's assists
Here you go Pounders, in what would be a great career highlight reel for most players, these are just over 40 of Manu's first 56 assists of the season, accompanied by the instrumental to Cantaloop by US3.
Ginobili went on to miss the entirety of the 2009 playoffs with a right ankle injury. But once Manu had reignited the fire in me, it kept burning. I started following the Spurs regularly, relishing Manu highlights, and each Spurs win brought me an ephemeral euphoria. I have also woefully accepted the devastating ankle, elbow, and hamstring injuries over the years.
I'll admit, I was disappointed in Manu's performance last season and in the Finals. I was in the camp that wanted to see his departure or retirement. He could have faded into the sunset after a disappointing season, having already accomplished more than most any basketball player has. He is one of the greatest winners the sport has ever seen.
He could have quit after the devastating loss in the Finals, and no one would have thought any less of him. He could have walked away from the game, but he didn't. And that's what defines Manu, what makes him, well, Manu - his perseverance and desire to conquer his failures.
This has been a renaissance year for Ginobili, and after several seasons of "what-ifs" with him, it's fantastic. I don't think it takes a deep analysis of Manu to assess where his game is this season. He simply looks physically fit and comfortable on the court, something we haven't seen except in short flashes for some time now. He's so effortlessly getting to the basket that he has defenders double-checking to make sure they know which hand is the left one.
Ginobili has many times this year looked like the the best player on the team, as well as the best player on the floor. It often appears as if Ginobili is 26 and the rest of his competition is 36, not the other way around. He makes his teammates significantly better, which garners not only the respect of his teammates, but also from fans and pundits.
The fact that I play basketball left-handed only furthers my admiration for Manu. In fact, I can almost guarantee you guys that I'd be just as good as Manu if I weren't 5'8" and 125 pounds. Or maybe it's just that he makes the game look so easy.
The fiery passion and unique style we have grown accustomed to from Manu over the past 12 seasons will soon come to an end. There will never be another Manu Ginobili. Gladly, I admit I was wrong to write him off and think he was done. I'm making it a point to appreciate every moment of brilliance he gives us. To treat each play as a small treasure, a small gift from Manu. A series of parting gifts in his last couple of seasons.
So, Manu, thank you for the spontaneous bullet passes. Thank you for the spine-contorting circus layups. Thank you for defying the laws of physics time and time again. Thank you for BatManu. Thank you for re-inspiring my love for basketball. Until that day sometime soon when you trade in the jersey for the clipboard, I will appreciate your tenacity, and you'll always have the love of us Spurs fans.